Clinton Joseph (Joe) Gillis was fun to watch – a fan favorite in every arena he played in. A wry smile, a wink or maybe a little dry wit, combined with raw talent – skill, size, speed and strength. No one played with more spirit and sportsmanship than Joe Gillis.
Almost from the start, Joe showed all the qualities that could have made him a successful professional hockey player. He had the knack of being able to anticipate where the puck was going, and he was so strong and sturdy on his feet, you couldn't get his stick off the ice.
One of Joe's strengths was his ability to instantly break into full speed. A “complete” player with natural scoring talent, he was dangerous on a regular shift and especially killing penalties. Bruce Beattie, Joe's longtime friend and teammate, says “his greatest asset was his capability to give his team a 'lift' – both on and off the ice.” His many multi-goal and multi-assist games resulted in numerous scoring titles. Art Newton, Joe's Junior Coach in 1969, suggested, “he was the best junior hockey player in Nova Scotia at the time.”
Playing for the Valley midget Flyers during the 1967 season, Joe's scoring and playmaking prowess helped his team to the Nova Scotia championship and a berth in the Centennial Cup in Kingston, Ontario, with a number of NHL scouts in attendance. Two years with the Berwick Juniors followed, and Joe continued to be one of his team's top scorers. In one 1969 game, a 15-1 thrashing of Shannon Park, Joe had four goals.
Eventually, Joe was offered a tryout by the NHL's New York Islanders. He attended the Islanders' training camp, and was assigned to Tulsa of the Central Hockey League. A highlight of his training camp experience was facing Islanders' defenseman Denis Potvin, who would end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Joe will tell you, “he beat me once, and I beat him once.”
As good a hockey player as he was, Joe was a darned good fastball player, too, playing for a number of teams including the Berwick Eassons and Waterville Mohawks. Those who watched him play, or played with or against him, say he could hit a home run or drop a “perfect bunt” as well as play any position. He was a career .300 hitter, and once, topped .400 for the season playing for Waterville.
His wife's ill health and the responsibilities of a young family forced Joe to end his pursuit of a pro career. All who ever watched him play were certain he had the ability to make it to the highest level, had the circumstances been different.
The Berwick Sports Hall of Fame is pleased to induct, in the Athlete category, Joe Gillis.
Inducted June 2012